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PU recycling to create opportunities: Industry

  • : Petrochemicals
  • 24/04/24

Research into rigid polyurethane (PU) recycling in appliances will create opportunities in the sector, delegates told the Utech Europe conference this week in the Netherlands.

"There are emerging technologies and innovations flourishing in the rigid PU foam industry," PU Europe secretary general Arnaud Duvielguerbigny said.

A lot of the consideration for PU recycling is around the automotive [sector] but there is an opportunity in the appliances sector such as for fridges, BASF Director Technical Development Martin Baumert said.

Consumer patterns are changing, with increasing demand for more sustainable alternatives, Duvielguerbigny said.

"For appliances specifically there is a very clear plan," Baumert said. The parameters for energy efficiency labelling were changed in 2020 so that white goods previously rated A+++ became a D rating, and that continual increase of efficiency requirements is set to continue.

As well as greater efficiency, EU regulations require industrial scale recycling. But current "best in class" insulation using vacuum insulation panels (VIP) that contain inorganic material such as glass fibre makes end-of-life appliance recycling more difficult.

At present, the "majority of PU ends up in thermal recycling" meaning the waste is incinerated to generate energy, Baumert said. "Recycling of polyurethanes is possible, but more on the lab scale," he said. "We need processes that are large scale to enable this change," said Baumert.

To facilitate recycling, BASF envisions that the inorganic material in VIP will eventually be phased out to include a PU filler, increasing demand for rigid PU foams.

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